The horizon is a strange thing. It calls out to something in the human spirit and sets it to wonder? What is there beyond it? What new shade of green? What new path or mountain? What new kind of people?
It is because of this that man, since the dawn of time, has been a traveler. Ever in search of new realms, new kingdoms, new wonders. In fact, the history of man is the history of travel.
LEAVING THE CRADLE
Anthropologists tell us that modern man evolved some 2 million years ago somewhere in coastal Africa. But now look anywhere you will find humans.
Because some of our ancient ancestors left the comfortable hearth of their homes and went out in search of the world.
As ancient man moved, first in small groups, then in clans and tribes, and finally as nations, man populated the earth.
Early human history is rife with such immigrations. As man traveled in search of new lands, new hunting grounds, new pastures for his animals and finally new followers for his religions.
It is believed that man first left Africa about 125,000 years ago. From there, man moved on to the Middle East, South Asia, Europe, Australia, the Asian Steppe and finally to the Americas about 40,000 years ago.
Why did early humans migrate?
Mostly for food. Searching for better lands or maybe even fleeing natural calamity. However, the restless nature of our species is evident even then.
Mind you, it wasn’t easy. The world was a big unknown. Full of mysterious challenges and dangers. Imagine seeing snow for the first time. Imagine wild animals like the sabre tooth tigers. Imagine competing races like the Neanderthals.
We cannot even imagine the courage it took for our ancestors to walk out into the unknown dangerous world, armed with practically nothing.
THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS
About 5000 years ago, civilized man was born. Which means men and women who were not constantly fighting for survival. Who lived in cities, farmed the land, had political organization.
The earliest civilizations rose next to rivers. The Nile, the Euphrates, the Indus and the Huang He. For the first time in history, life was comfortable.
But was man satisfied? Sadly, or rather fortunately, no.
Ancient records and evidence shows that people of these civilizations regularly visited each other.
Profit of course. Archaeologists tell us that these civilizations had regular trade ties with each other. Merchant-travelers regularly carried trade goods between one to the other. That is why Indus valley seals have been found in Mesopotamia and Mesopotamian writings in Egypt.
We know little about these very early travelers. Just that they traveled by ship or caravans, over extremely difficult terrain. And as they brought back goods, they might have brought back ideas and knowledge.
The impact that they had on the progress of human history has sadly been lost in the mists of time.
THE HORDES ATTACK
From the Hyskos who conquered Egypt to the Indo Europeans who settled Europe and South Asia to the Mongols who conquered most of the known world, repeated invasions by different tribes led to large-scale immigrations.
More than anything else, this led to a wider view of the world. Cultures mingled, knowledge of various lands and people increased.
THE GREAT TRAVELLERS
Finally came the age of the great travellers. Cartographers and explorers, writers and adventurers who went out to the great unknown to further their itch to travel. Some of them even left behind travelogues and writings (often greatly exaggerated, sometimes complete fiction). These writings further other travellers and explorers down the ages. Some of the greatest travellers were:
Following on the footsteps of Alexander the great was Megasthenes. He was a Greek ethnographer and explorer who was sent as an ambassador of Selucus I to the kingdom of Chandragupta Maurya. He wrote down detailed accounts of his travels in his book called Indica, which unfortunately has not survived. But due to the great influence and importance of this book, many later writers have freely quoted from it. We can therefore read second-hand about a lot of things he had recorded.
Ibn Batuta is like the Marco Polo of the Islamic World, only ten times better. He travelled, mostly on foot through what are 44 countries today. His world-wide ramblings included Italy and China, India and Spain. Back home in Morocco after traveling around the world, he dictated a book called the Rihla (or Journey). Close to seven centuries after being written, the book remains one of the most interesting travelogues in world literature.
XUANZANG (Hsuan Tsang):
XUANZANG also known as Hsuan Tsang was a Chinese Monk who went in search of wisdom. He was caught by the travel bug quite early in life and travelled around china in search of Buddhist books. Not satisfied by what he found in his own country, he set out in a seventeen year journey for the origins of Buddhism. In his trip to India, he crossed deserts, mountains, faced robbers, was the guest and friend of kings and studied in a Buddhist university. When he came back to China, he brought back close to 600 Buddhist manuscripts, which he set to translate to Chinese. He also wrote a book on his travels, which is one of the most influential books in Chinese literature.
Was he one of the greatest travellers of all time or was he a consummate liar? We will never know. But if he believe his writings, he did go quite far – opening up the orient to westerners for the first time.
Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), He was the first recorded European to set foot on the Americas. And in doing that, he opened up the new world. Columbus’ failed voyage to India turned out to be one of the most important events in the history of the world.
One of the things that are often ignored about Charles Darwin is the fact that he was a great traveller. In fact, he found evidence to his theory of evolution on his travels.
“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” This Scottish Doctor more to explore Africa than any other man.
He is remembered as the discoverer of Australia and New Zealand. However, he did far more than that. He went around the world, twice. He also the first person in human history to have visited all seven continents. In his own words, he wanted to go “farther than any man has been”.
The first man who travelled outside the globe. In this he took humanity further than any other human before him. Our journey to the stars starts with him.
THE COLONIAL URGE
With the industrial revolution came the need for new markets, new lands and eventually new colonies. Thus came state sponsored travellers. From Columbus to Vasco da Gama, Dr. Livingstone to Thomas Cook, travellers were often the scouts of an invading army or navy. Colonialism however made travellers of a large number of people. When people of one country would travel round the world to work in their colonies.
THE MODERN TOURIST
A hat, sunglasses and a camera. The modern tourist can be found be anywhere – from the heights of the Andes to the bazaars of Marrakesh, from the by lanes of Calcutta to the broken hills of Sicily. Air travel has made it possible for us to go anywhere in the world in just a few hours. Hotels, taxis, guides and other such facilities taken away the dangers and inconvenience of travel. Therefore more and more and people are traveling nowadays. Some for business, some for work and many for pleasure.
With Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong leading the way, we have taken our first step into the final frontier. Mars, Jupiter and the stars await the travellers of tomorrow.